From houses cut out of colorful paper to storm clouds crafted from cotton balls, it didn’t take long for us to discover and find inspiration in the creative photography of Catherine MacBride.
This talented Dublin-based artist has brilliantly mastered conceptual photography with very minimal props, setup, and manipulation, resulting in striking images that instantly come to life with story and meaning.
So how does she do it? We recently sat down with her for an interview where she shared the story behind her photos, how she got started, her inspirations, and a few helpful tips. Read on, and get inspired!
Hi Catherine! How did you get started with your art and photography?
I never set out to be a professional photographer, but I have always been taking photographs. Photography ultimately overtook my day job. I was lucky enough to be able to give it up, allowing me to concentrate on photography full time.
What do you love most about your work?
I love finding and photographing the fun side of ordinary everyday objects. But I also really love making things to photograph, usually out of paper. I’ve made everything from homes to space ships, creating little worlds my imagination can escape too.
That is so inspiring! Where do you find the inspiration to take these photos?
Nearly all my photographs are taken as part of an ongoing photo a day project. I started a 365 project back in January of 2011. Over 2,000 days later, I’m still taking photos. I’ve never missed a day. Pushing myself to take a photo everyday really gives my creativity a boost. You start to see everything as a possible picture. Regular deadlines push me to take photos even when there is nothing to photograph. This was why the idea of making things to photograph came about. If there was nothing to take a photo of, I made something…usually out of a piece of paper. It’s been a huge challenge, but it’s a great learning experience. I feel my photography and paper craft has improved dramatically since I started it.
How do you come up with ideas?
My husband Scott and I talk about photography and possible ideas all the time. We bounce ideas off each other constantly. I’ve come to realize that creativity is contagious and collaborative. It’s always so much easier to be inspired when you can spend time with creative people from the same or different disciplines. I believe that having a creative outlet in life makes life much more fun. I also love the work of Dina Belenko, who I got to meet up with earlier this year. She has such an identifiable style and that really is a credit to her. I find originality in photography very charming.
Do you have any advice for photographers who want to be like you, or any techniques that might help them create work like yours?
I started sketching out ideas for shots into little Moleskine Storyboard notebooks whenever an idea came to me from early on in my photo a day project.
Having a record of your ideas can be great, because they act as reminders and can also act as a springboard for even more new ideas. I would always recommend photographers to start their own idea notebooks, as they are such useful photography tools—they are often overlooked when the focus is usually on gear.
I think the best advice I could give to other photographers is not to be afraid to tell your own story and shoot what you want to shoot. Don’t try to do something because it’s popular or copy other photographers because they do well. Find what you love to shoot and do that. Creative still life will never be as popular as portrait or landscape photography, but it’s what I love so that’s why I shoot it!
THE STORY BEHIND THE SHOTS
Want to see how some of Catherine’s images were created and shot? Read on as she shares the story and secrets behind some of our favorite photos on her 500px page.
My husband Scott was my model for this shot. He is a photographer on 500px too. He is always thinking about his next shot and his next idea. Very often, he has his “head in the clouds”. I wanted to make an image that represented this saying, so I went about making a cloud for his head out of upholstery filler. It seemed right to add a little paper house to finish it off. It could be a little home for his imagination. Everything was held in place on his head by pure luck. My setup for this shot was very simple. I used my Canon 7D with my 17-40mm lens, and an off-camera flash fired though a cheap diffusing umbrella. Most of my setups are very simple and straight forward, because sometimes I’m busy and I only have a few minutes to take a shot.
As a child I loved pop-up story books. They just seemed to take the story to a whole new level. So I decided to make my own—well, at least one page anyway. For this shot, I went about cutting out a row of little houses and trees to set the scene for a story that I had in my head. I used a lovely little flexible paper cutting knife that allows you to cut paper like you are drawing, so it didn’t take long to make. I got my son to hold the book for me and simply shot it in natural light in my back garden with my Fujifilm X100S at f/2 to give it a more magical feel. All my processing is done in Photoshop. I doodled in some little birds as a final finishing flourish.
My sister made me a beautiful patchwork quilt as a present. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect as part of a paper scene, and it could represent farm fields as you see them when you look down from a plane. I tried to shoot the scene flat, but it lacked lustre, so I draped the quilt over a stack of books. I placed a little paper house and water tower on the top, and then I used a blue paper background to represent the sky behind it. I shot the scene from a low down angle to give the scene a sense of scale using a 6D with 24-105 lens and off-camera flash again shot through a diffusing umbrella. I added a texture to the sky in post processing—I love the textures made by flypapertextures.com.
I have always loved children’s illustrated storybooks. Many of them are charming with beautiful illustrations and story lines. So for this shot I wanted to create an image that wouldn’t look out of place in a children’s book. I usually start with an idea for a story deciding what is happening in a particular scene. I then make it, set it up, play out the scene moving things around till they look right in the viewfinder and then photograph it. This scene was very simple and was a close up of an attic window in a paper house to which I wanted to add a tiny little ghost. The shot was taken with my Fujifilm X100S in macro mode using ambient light. I added a flypapertextures.com in processing.